“Do you want to go left first or right?” the auto-rickshaw driver asks me as we approach a T-junction.
“I don’t know. Whichever takes me to Aurangabad Caves“, I reply, a little confused by the question.
“Both turns will take you to the Caves. Part of the Caves is on the left and part is on the right. I asked since you have to begin somewhere.”
“Umm… in that case, take the left.”
About 10 minutes later, I’m at the foot of a flight of steps that will lead me to the Westernmost part of the Aurangabad Caves.
I have very carefully stowed the entry ticket away in my backpack as I will need it to visit the other, Eastern, set of Aurangabad Caves, which is over a kilometre away according to the ticket clerk. There aren’t too many visitors around on that pleasantly warm December afternoon of 2013. The few who are there are Buddhist devotees dressed in white and carrying offerings of white flowers. The climb is an easy one and I reach the entrance to the first of the Caves in no time.
There are12 rock-cut caves roughly divided into 3 groups. Not all of the caves are complete and it is believed that poor rock quality and structural faults and fractures in the rocks here forced some of them caves to be abandoned midway.
The Aurangabad Caves are supposed to have been built between the 2nd and 7th centuries CE. All the caves are Buddhist and are either viharas (monasteries), chaityas (shrines) or chaitya grihas (large shrines). While some of the caves are bare, a couple of them are richly sculpted with images associated with Buddhism — Avalokitesvara, Bodhisatva, Vajrapani, Padmapani, etc. Presenting some captures:
Due to the east-west orientation of the hill that the caves are cut into, sunlight doesn’t penetrate into the deepest part of the caves. But help and Indian jugaad is at hand for the visitor who does not have a torch. One of the ASI employees/guides will reflect the light falling on a foil covered board into the caves so that you can see the details (see photograph below). Trust me, this method illuminates the interiors much better than a torch. 🙂
The Eastern set of caves are a leisurely 10-15 minute walk. The path is at an elevation and I can see Aurangabad town in the distance, a lake, and the minarets of Bibi ka Maqbara.
These caves are not very interesting as they are incomplete excavations The antics of a flock of parakeets who have made a home in the cracks and crevices in the rocks are far more interesting ! After a while, I leave for Bibi ka Maqbara, also known as the Taj of the Deccan.
It close to sunset when I arrive at Bibi ka Maqbara. Commissioned by the 6th Mughal Emperor, Aurangzeb for his first wife Rabia ul-Durrani or Dilnara Banu Begum, the mausoleum was built by their son Azam Shah between 1651–1661 CE.
It is rather unfortunate that the Bibi ka Maqbara is constantly compared to the Taj Mahal. Like most Mughal mausoleums, it has a central domed structure built on a raised platform, with 4 minarets in each corners. A mosque on one side and a garden built along the concept of a charbagh is another common feature. That’s where the similarities end.
The Bibi ka Maqbara is not as severely symmetrical as the Taj, and yet its proportions are pleasing. Unlike the Taj, only the dome of the Maqbara is made of marble. Also, there is no inlay work of semi-precious stones. I can go on about the architectural differences between the two mausoleums, but…
The actual crypt of Dilnara Banu Begum is in the basement and can be viewed once you enter the mausoleum. I saw people throwing what looked like notes and coins into the crypt as offerings. When I looked closer, I saw that most of it were the entry tickets to the Mausoleum. There was very little actual money !
There is a festive atmosphere at the Bibi ka Maqbara. There are school children on a picnic, college students on a study tour, families strolling in the gardens, tourists photographing the monument (and perhaps comparing it with the Taj). I also saw what looked like two families meeting and sending ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ off to talk to each other in ‘privacy’, but under their watchful eyes. 😀
Bibi ka Maqbara is set in rather extensive and well maintained gardens and its a pleasure walking through it. In the rear of the complex are some sculptures and carvings which don’t appear to belong to the Mausoleum. Like the one in the photograph below, which is in all likelihood a sundial. What it’s doing at the Bibi ka Maqbara is anybody’s guess.
The sun has already set when I leave Bibi ka Maqbara. I am amazed by the crowds still coming in till I realise that the mausoleum is open till quite late, though the grounds are closed.
Panchakki or a water-mill dating from medieval times is the next place that I head to. When I mentioned to friends that I was visiting Aurangabad, everyone without exception mentioned Panchakki as THE place to visit and not to miss. I don’t know what I expected to see, but certainly not shops selling cheap souvenirs, a garden, a dargah, a pond, and canoodling couples. The Panchakki itself is relegated to one corner of the ‘complex’.
Maybe it was the timing of my visit or maybe I was just tired, but I could neither understand the mechanics of the water-mill nor appreciate the scientific thought process it is supposed to be a showcase of. I left within 10 minutes.
When I planned my Lonar-Aurangabad-Ajanta-Daulatabad-Ellora trip last year, I thought I had worked on my itinerary really well and had everything covered. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The half-a-day ‘allotted’ to Aurangabad turned out to be insufficient as I discovered the city’s 52 gates, some of which I saw in passing; and the war cemetery that I had a glimpse of on my way to Daulatabad, among others. was surprised, but delighted, to hear Dakhani spoken in Aurangabad and would have loved to explore this aspect of the city’s culture as well.
Like most tourists, I was focused on visiting Daulatabad, Ajanta and Ellora (blog posts coming up for these places soon) and never thought that Aurangabad would be worth giving any time to.
How wrong this turned out to be ! The Aurangabad part of trip last year will be remembered as one trip that I wish, I had planned better.
Have you been to Aurangabad? What did you think of the city?